Stacey Abrams is probably best known for her unsuccessful 2018 bid to become the first female and first African-American governor of Georgia. But in her new book on entrepreneurship and business, Abrams is clearly ready to assert herself as not only a groundbreaking politician, but also as a savvy entrepreneur and small business advocate.
Abrams recently joined my podcast, Brown Ambition, with her longtime business partner and co-author Lara Hodgson to share insights from their experience launching several successful (and some not so successful) ventures together.
Here are a few gems I gleaned from reading their book, "Level Up: Rise Above the Hidden Forces Holding Your Business Back," and from our extensive chat.
Don’t be too paranoid to share your business ideas with others — just do it wisely
It’s far too easy to feel overly protective of a new business idea, especially in the early stages. But Abrams and Hodgson emphasized the risk of being too secretive when trying to seek outside guidance.
“Most of us, when we come up with an idea, it's very much like an infant and our tendency is to protect it … but what that means is you never include others that can help you,” Hodgson said. “What we realized is that, you know, most people are very busy, and they're not just sitting around looking for your idea to go do because coming up with the idea is just the first step. The hard part is then marshaling the resources and actually executing. So don't assume that someone else can do that easier than you.”
Abrams, who graduated from Yale Law and worked as a tax attorney before segueing into politics, was a stickler for asking anyone with whom they shared business details to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
“Make sure that you protect yourself by ensuring that anyone who gets your information knows they're not supposed to share it,” Abrams advised. “When you are sharing, it should always be because there's something you can gain from the conversation, from the investigation, but never do it just to say, 'look how cool I am.' Because you will be someone cool with nothing.”
Be honest with your investors and let go of guilt
Abrams and Hodgson shared candid details about the failure of their joint venture Nourish, a special type of bottled water they invented for toddlers and infants. When they had trouble raising funds through venture capital and financial firms, they turned to friends, family, and associates.
Knowing they weren’t going to be able to deliver dividends to their early investors left them racked with guilt, they said. But because they had been so transparent with investors about their progress, the challenges they were facing, and the likelihood of future success, they didn’t burn as many bridges as might have been expected.
“One thing that Lara and I did was over-communicate on the investment all the time. People don't mind you making a mistake, they mind you not telling them about it,” Abrams said. “Part of ambition is that you've got to meet that ambition with intention, that, yes, you're going to take their money in, but you're going to tell them what they're getting, even if what they're getting is not what they expected.”
Go into business with someone who’s able to handle difficult conversations.
Abrams and Hodgson laud their transparency and fundamental respect for one another as two key reasons they were successful business partners. When Abrams, who is Black, realized that business leaders would constantly turn to Hodgson, who is white, for answers in meetings, she felt comfortable enough to voice her concerns.
“Part of being different is that you can't expect people to have the same experiences. And the responsibility is on the person who sees something to say something,” Abrams said.
As a result of the conversation, they adjusted their presentation strategy to ensure Abrams' credentials were shared with the attendees in their introduction and that they spelled out to prospective clients that they were partners.
Check out my full interview with Stacey Abrams and Lara Hodgson at brownambitionpodcast.com. And grab a copy of their book “Level Up: Rise Above The Hidden Forces Holding Your Business Back”.
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